As the flag dropped, I was off with sheer determination and perseverance, racing a Harley-Davidson Street Rod 750 flat track bike on a makeshift track in the middle of the Croatian mountains. With focus in my eyes, I raced my challenger with everything I had. It was a scene straight out of the ‘Harley and the Davidsons’ docuseries (if you haven’t seen it yet, this is a must watch). There were a few differences of course, including some serious gear and high performance bikes, which were a stark contrast compared to the earlier flat track bikes used back in the early 1900’s.
Starting in second gear, I slowly made my way around corners, hoping to keep the bike from sliding out. I used every skill I had been taught that morning by champion racers Ruben Xaus and Grant Martin, and while I didn’t win the race, my personal goals for the day had been met.
Even better than that were the positive accolades I received even before I left the track. I could hear the cheering from my fellow racers, I could see fists pump the air, and then I was congratulated by a local Croatian man who was thrilled to see me out racing. Apparently news spreads fast, and when Harley-Davidson comes to town, you make plans to check it out. This man patted my back so many times that I lost count; I couldn’t understand what he was saying, but the smile on his face was big enough to make me smile just as widely in return. A few women who watched the race came up to me, and thanked me for representing the girls club.
As nervous as I was to race that day, I pulled on a leather race suit, strapped the metal plate to my left foot, hopped on a pretty heavy 750 Street Rod, and gave away my flat track virginity. No, wait, I earned it, and I showed that bike who was boss. No front brake? No problem! I adapted pretty quickly and found my groove on the track. It was a fun day, and by the end of it, my fellow racers and I were exhausted and sweaty, but with huge smiles plastered across our faces.
The experience was a once in a lifetime opportunity. When you get an invite to ride motorcycles in Croatia, you don’t turn it down. With little more than an itinerary and a list of gear to pack, I hopped on a plane to Europe with pretty much no idea of what to expect. A few friends commented when I returned home at how brave they thought I was, and how they could never travel to another country not knowing who would be there. I guess at one point in my life I would have thought the same thing, but then I realized that I would not have experienced half of the things I have in my life if I would have just stayed in my comfort zone.
So as I hopped off that flat track bike, Caylee (photographer extraordinaire) approached me and thanked me for representing the ladies out on that track that day. I learned that she is a badass chick who also rides bikes and races flat track in the UK. Crazy how motorcycles connect us isn’t it?!
Later that day I was chatting with another moto journalist and I commented on how I was the only girl racing that day. He calmly shrugged his shoulders while saying that he didn’t even notice. As we discussed it more, he said that with more and more women riding these days it isn’t as noticeable. At first I wasn’t sure what to think, because I’m used to usually being the only girl in a group of riders, often characterized by bright colors, and other distinguishing features so people know I’m a girl. Why? Well I’m proud of course. I’m proud of my heritage, I’m proud of the fact that my mom started riding in the 70’s when it wasn’t as common for women to ride motorcycles, and I’m proud that my parents chose to raise their daughters on bikes.
There are days where I rock all black, and look well, like a boy I suppose. There are times I’m torn about my identity on a bike. Sure, I’m proud to be a chick who rides, and sometimes I want to shout it out and stand out, but then there are days where I just want to ride, with whoever, wherever and whenever, wearing whatever. To hear that another moto journalist didn’t really notice that I was the only girl there was cool, eye opening, and intriguing, all at the same time.
When I attended the Sisters Centennial Ride in 2016, organized Alisa Clickenger, I remember someone saying, “the day people don’t notice I’m a girl on a bike is the day that I know we’ve accomplished what we set out to do”.
At the end of the day, I just want to ride, and even though I put myself in situations that some may find incredibly intimidating, I push myself to get outside of my comfort zone because that’s what you have to do if you want to make your mark on the world. So ladies and fellow riders reading this, I challenge you to do something different, accept an opportunity, race a flat track bike, travel and ride in another country. We have one life to live, and we need to enjoy every moment. Be proud to be a girl who rides, but be even prouder that sometimes people may not notice.
Ridden and Written by: Jess Kline
Photographer Extraordinaire: Caylee Hankins